John Harbaugh could have gloated. He could have bragged.
Instead, the Baltimore Ravens coach played the role of gracious big brother after he bested Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers 16-6 Thursday night in the first NFL game featuring brothers as opposing head coaches.
The Ravens (8-3) tied a franchise record with nine sacks to end San Francisco’s eight-game winning streak.
”To the 49ers and to my brother, I can’t tell you enough how proud I am of him and the job he’s done building that football team,” John said of Jim, a rookie NFL coach. ”That’s a football team. The way they’re built, it’s pretty hard to figure out a way to beat them.”
John, 49, and Jim, 47, grew up dueling each other in all sorts of games. This, however, was the first time their sibling rivalry was displayed on a national stage.
During the final minute, John got a Gatorade bath from his players – twice. After the game ended, the brothers hugged at midfield.
”There’s a saying that says, `As iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another,”’ Jim said. ”And I have to say my brother John is the sharpest iron I’ve ever encountered in my life.”
The Ravens chased, hindered and battered 49ers quarterback Alex Smith for much of the night despite playing without middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the team’s leading tackler and spiritual leader. Lewis was inactive for a second straight game with a foot injury.
Smith completed 15 of 24 passes for 140 yards and an interception, and San Francisco (9-2) was held without a touchdown for the first time this season. Smith never could get into a rhythm against an aggressive defense that rarely let him set up in the pocket.
”It’s tough to get ready for a defense like that in a short week. They do so many things,” he said. ”They’re a great front. At home with the crowd noise, they were teeing off.”
Terrell Suggs had three sacks for first-place Baltimore, which moved a half-game ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.
”That’s always the game plan, to get after the quarterback, but I think the No. 1 game plan was to win the Harbaugh Bowl,” Suggs said. ”Coach tried to downplay it – act like it’s not me against my brother, this is the Ravens vs. the 49ers and let’s get win No. 8 and make sure our destiny is in our own hands – but it was really important to him. We as a team went out there and really wanted to win for him.”
Baltimore broke a 6-6 tie with a 76-yard, 16-play drive that lasted more than 7 1/2 minutes and ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to tight end Dennis Pitta with 14:56 left. Flacco went 4 for 4 for 34 yards and a touchdown on third down during the drive.
”When you have that kind of game plan – your line being so efficient on third downs – you have to come through,” Flacco said.
Billy Cundiff wrapped up the scoring with his third field goal, a 39-yarder with 4:16 remaining.
In a game dominated by both defenses, Flacco finished 15 for 23 for 161 yards and Ray Rice ran for 59 yards on 21 carries.
The 49ers began the third quarter with a 13-play drive that lasted 7 1/2 minutes and produced a 52-yard field goal by David Akers for a 6-6 tie. The key play was an 18-yard completion from Smith to Michael Crabtree on a third-and-17 from the San Francisco 26.
The Ravens responded with their lone touchdown drive of the game.
Baltimore sacked Smith four times in the first half and picked off a pass in taking a 6-3 lead.
The Ravens took the opening kickoff and moved 55 yards – 38 of them on a pair of Flacco-to-Anquan Boldin completions – before Cundiff kicked a 39-yard field goal.
Late in the first quarter, a 20-yard completion from Smith to tight end Vernon Davis set up a 45-yard field goal by Akers.
The 49ers blew a chance to take the lead when Frank Gore was penalized for a chop block on a 75-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Ted Ginn, who got behind Cary Williams deep down the middle.
Neither team had much luck moving the ball until San Francisco’s Tarell Brown was called for pass interference on a long pass to Torrey Smith. The 50-yard penalty put the ball at the 15, and although the Ravens turned it into a first-and-goal at the 4, they had to settle for a 23-yard field goal with 2:51 left in the half.
Notes: Baltimore has won all six home games this season and 15 of 16. … Gore finished with 39 yards on 14 carries. … Although the Ravens had a first-and-goal at the 4 in second quarter, the 49ers held and kept intact their distinction of not allowing a TD rushing all season. … Lee Evans had a catch for the Ravens, his first reception since Week 2 after missing seven games with an ankle injury.